Every day, we’re bombarded with a huge amount of news and information from all around the world. Whether it’s through websites, social media or TV, it’s never been easier to access the news.
Think about how many bits of news you’ve seen on your Instagram feed today. But how much of it can you really trust?
What is media literacy and why is it important?
Media literacy is the ability to spot different types of media and to understand the messages they are communicating. It involves questioning what you’re watching, listening to or reading, so that you can make better judgements about the messages you’re being presented with.
Media includes all the different ways a message is communicated – from the news we read online to the ads we see on TV. The media we consume can inform, educate, entertain or convince us. It influences the way we see and think about ourselves and the world around us.
If we have good media literacy, it can stop us from getting stressed out by the confusing or negative things we see in the media. It can also help us focus on all the useful media that helps us to learn, connect and relax.
How can I improve my media literacy when it comes to the news?
1. Switch off and take a break
News has a 24-hour cycle – its output is never-ending. It can therefore be overwhelming and exhausting, especially as some media outlets tend to report mostly negative stories (because they get an emotional reaction).
Turn off the news and do something you enjoy to clear your mind. Challenge yourself to a tech-free hour and spend it going for a walk or reading a book. You could do something that will refresh your mind and body, like shooting some hoops or dancing to your favourite music.
Whatever you decide to do, remember that it’s important to take a break from the news every once in a while. Taking time out helps you to think critically about and not be overwhelmed by the news. It’ll help you with all the other tips in this article!
2. Question the credibility of the news source
Whether you read the news from Instagram or a website, it’s important to know who is publishing the content. A credible or trustworthy news provider will make sure their reporting is impartial and free of errors.
Check out a news provider’s ‘About Us’ section on their website to learn more about their mission, values and approach to reporting.
For example, as a not-for-profit, The Conversation’s mission is ‘to provide access to quality explanatory journalism’ through articles written by ‘academics and journalists working together’. Factors like these will influence the way a story is reported.
3. Find news from a variety of sources
Get a balanced picture of news stories by consuming different news sources. This will give you a range of different perspectives on an issue. Media sites are often funded by advertisers, which means their reporting is driven by clicks (how people engage with the content). This causes them to report their stories in certain ways. If a news site is funded by an organisation with a particular political view, it can lead to reporting that promotes their way of thinking.
Read a mix of local publications and international news providers such as Reuters. This will help you to develop a well-informed opinion on a story.
4. Think about the purpose of the article
Why was the story written? Was it to:
- inform you about something that happened (news report)?
- change your mind or behaviour (opinion piece)?
- sell you something and promote a brand (branded content)?
A news provider might produce many different types of articles and should label them to make their purpose clear to the reader.
When it comes to the news, start with reports that contain facts, statistics from a trustworthy source (like from the government or an academic institution) and quotes from experts. Once you have the background details on a story, you’ll be able to make your own conclusions about an opinion piece written in response to it. This is especially important because prejudice against a person or group is common in mainstream media coverage.
5. Spot misinformation or fake news
Although social media has helped us become better connected, it has also driven the viral spread of fake news, or ‘misinformation’. Fake news is created using false or inaccurate information, with the intention of deceiving the reader. It works by grabbing a reader’s attention with a sensational or wild claim in the hope they’ll then click through and share it.
Our social media feeds are based on an algorithm or system of rules that sorts posts based on the type of content you normally interact with and how popular the content is. The more people who interact with the content, the quicker the fake news spreads and the more money the site makes from advertisers who pay to put up their ads on the site. Here are a few signs the story you’re reading could be fake news:
- No evidence: It contains no evidence for its claims and is often based on one person’s side of the story.
- Sensational headline and images: It uses an outrageous headline and images to lure you in (e.g. ‘Celebrity kills off dad in latest prank’). The stories may also include many bizarre claims.
- Not reported anywhere else: If you can’t find the story through any other news source, it’s reasonable to question its credibility.
- Contains errors: The article contains spelling and grammatical mistakes or incorrect dates.
- Unusual URL: For example, the site URL ends in “.com.co” or “.lo”.
6. Talk to your family and friends about the news you’re reading
Discussing news stories with other people will challenge and broaden your own perspective. Be open to talking with and listening to people whose views differ from yours.
If the conversation starts to become difficult or makes you feel uncomfortable, ask someone neutral to join the discussion. Or you can always stop the conversation and simply agree to disagree. There’s no point arguing with someone who doesn’t want to listen to anyone else’s perspective.